Carnations In Bloom: Essential Pruning & Deadheading Tips

Carnations are attractive herbaceous perennials from the Dianthus genus that are wonderfully easy to grow. Carnations are known for their gorgeous flowers that give off a spicy, sweet scent similar to cloves. In this article, we’ll cover pruning and deadheading carnations.

Carnation Pruning and Deadheading: A Gardener’s Essential Tips for a Spectacular Display

Do Carnations Need Pruning and Deadheading?

Carnations are hardy, short-lived perennials that have minimal care requirements and are also rich in symbolic value. However, neglecting to prune your carnations can result in leggy, overgrown plants that don’t produce many flowers. Thankfully, most types of carnations don’t need much pruning throughout the year.

Cut back carnations twice a year to remove faded flowers and stems. Carnations can produce a second round of flowers after you cut them back the first time. During the spring, pinch some of the young carnation shoots to encourage the plant to produce more flowers. Deadhead carnations throughout the year.

For more, see our in-depth guide to how tall and wide carnations grow.

Key Considerations When Pruning & Deadheading Carnations

A cluster of colorful flowering carnation plants

Cutting back any plant can make it more vulnerable to pests and diseases. However, you can minimize this risk if you cut back your carnations correctly.

Whenever you’re cutting back your carnations, make sure that you’re using clean, sharp tools. Sterilizing your tools prevents the spread of diseases and keeps your plants healthy. Clean your tools regularly using warm, soapy water or a 5% bleach solution.

To make clean cuts when cutting back your carnations, you’ll need sharp tools. If your secateurs are blunt, it’ll take several cuts to remove a stem. This creates untidy, uneven cuts that leave your carnations more vulnerable to diseases. Sharpen your tools regularly before cutting back your carnations.

When to Deadhead Carnations

A person deadheading a carnation flower

Most carnations flower from late spring until late summer or early fall. Deadhead your carnations throughout the blooming season. This keeps your carnations looking good and smelling fragrant while also encouraging new flower buds to open.

You can also pinch out some of the new shoots on your carnations during the spring before they start flowering. This helps keep your plants compact and rounded and stimulates your carnations to produce more flowers.

When to Cut Back Carnations

Cut carnations back twice yearly to encourage more flowers and prepare the plants for winter. Cut back the stems once the first round of flowers ends in early summer. This stimulates your carnations to produce a second flush of flowers later in the season.

Cut back your carnations for the second time at the end of the growing season. The second round of flowers should be finished by then. Cutting back your carnations at this time of year helps them prepare for their winter dormancy.

For more, see our guide to the fastest growing dianthus flowers.

How to Cut Back Carnations

Red and pink blooming carnation flowers

Here’s a quick guide explaining how to cut back your carnations throughout the year:

  1. Always use clean and sterile sharp tools when cutting back your carnations.
  2. Deadhead carnations throughout the flowering season to encourage more blooms.
  3. After the first round of flowers finishes in early summer, cut back your carnations to unopened buds. Look for areas where two unopened buds are growing on either side of the stem. Leave about ½ an inch of the stem above these buds.
  4. Cut back your carnations to a couple of inches above the ground at the end of the growing season. The plants will then die back entirely and go dormant over the winter.

Pruning and Deadheading Carnations FAQs:

Do Carnations Come Back Year After Year?

In USDA Zones 3 to 8, carnations are short-lived herbaceous perennials that return yearly. However, carnations typically live for three to four years under optimal growing conditions, including regular watering, an appropriate soil base, sufficient sunlight exposure, and occasional fertilizing throughout the flowering season. 

Should Carnations Be Cut Back?

Cut back carnations once the first round of flowers finishes. By cutting down the stems, you inhibit seed production. This encourages a second flush of flowers later in the season.

Do You Cut Dead Flowers Off Carnations?

Deadhead carnations throughout the year to keep your plants looking good. Deadheading spent carnation flowers also helps encourage more flowers to bloom throughout the season.

What to Do With Carnations at the End of the Season?

Carnations are perennials that grow back every year. At the end of the season, carnations die back to the ground and enter a dormant state. Apply a thick layer of mulch to preserve moisture and warmth during the winter.

How Do You Keep Carnations Over the Winter?

Carnations can survive winter outside in Zones 3 to 8. However, it’s a good idea to add a thick layer of mulch to keep them warm and conserve moisture. In colder areas, grow carnations in pots. This allows you to bring them indoors or wrap them in fleece during the winter.

Wrapping Up

Cut back carnations twice a year, once after the first round of flowers ends and again at the end of the growing season. Deadhead carnations throughout the flowering season.

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